Virginia opens the gates for I-81 improvement ideas

| 9/25/2002

The Virginia transportation department announced Sept. 19 it would begin accepting bids to overhaul the state's I-81 corridor. Proposals may include a possible rail corridor to ease tractor-trailer traffic.

VDOT Commissioner Philip Shucet said he anticipated three to seven proposals being submitted under the Public-Private Transportation Act of 1995. The agreement allows the department to partner with the private sector to speed up construction of the 325-mile corridor.

Star Solutions, a 25-member coalition of builders, engineers and consultants, submitted a plan in January to widen I-81 to eight lanes. At the suggestion of VDOT, the coalition included in their proposal adding two lanes in each direction to be reserved for toll-paying trucks.

VDOT returned the proposal in August in favor of an additional component that would include moving some freight off the freeway to rail. "Governor Warner has been supportive of creative solutions such as the one submitted by Star Solutions to widen I-81," said Shucet. "But before considering any PPTA proposal, VDOT will complete by this October a solicitation for PPTA proposals for the entire 325-mile I-81 corridor that will include all possibilities, including moving freight by rail."

The department's next step on I-81 will be to conduct three open meetings to answer questions and hear comments from potential proposers and the public. The meetings will be Oct. 1 in Harrisonburg, Oct. 2 in Roanoke and Oct. 3 in Abingdon. For more details on the pre-proposal meetings, click here to go the VDOT web site.

The deadline for the private proposals is Jan. 17, 2003. The state will then select one or more proposals for negotiations by July 11, and negotiations should be finalized by Sept. 30.